Women and girls are in a state of emergency, with poverty and mental health rates soaring one year into the pandemic

29th March, 2021 4:40 pm

One year on from the start of the pandemic and women and girls are in greater need than ever. More and more women and girls are being pushed to the sharpest end of inequality with little support, leaving them to face the consequences alone for years to come, according to new research.

New research from Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, reveals a deeply concerning increase in poverty and destitution and a growing future crisis in women and girls’ mental health. At a time when women and girls have required additional emotional support, many services have had to close or reduce support, plunging more women and girls into crisis situations.

The report, Voices From LockdownA Way Forward For Women And Girls, brings together three waves of research conducted over the past year following the first lockdown.  Over 150 voluntary sector organisations supporting the most disadvantaged women and girls responded to three surveys in total. The findings in the last survey are deeply concerning. It found:

  • Over the course of one year 100% of organisations reported the complexity of women and girls needs has increased.
  • Three quarters (76%) of organisations reported demand for their services had increased from the first lockdown.
  • 95% of organisations agreed that the pandemic has made existing 
    mental health problems worsewith90% saying it has created new mental health problems. 
  • Nearly a third (31%) of organisations supporting women and girls at risk identified an increase in poverty, destitution and basic needs among those they support since the crisis began.
  • Over half (56%) of services identified financial problems and poverty as a key driver of mental health problems for women and girls.
  • 9 in 10services report women and girls experiencing complex trauma during this year.

Agenda warns that the legacy of lockdown will be profound and long-lasting. The alarming increase in demand and complexity of need highlights that more women and girls than ever before have been pushed to the sharpest end of inequality, impacting their life outcomes for years to come.

Jessica Southgate, CEO of Agenda, says:

One year from the start of the first lockdown women and girls are in a state of emergency. Since March 2020, demand and complexity of need has outstripped services’ capacity to deliver essential support to the most marginalised women and girls. The combination of increased poverty, rising unemployment, soaring rates of domestic abuse and challenges accessing support have led to a growing crisis in women and girls’ mental health.

“Our research shows anxiety, depression and PTSD recorded at alarming rates, with existing mental health conditions further exacerbated by the economic and social impact of the pandemic. Girls and young women, and Black and minoritised women and girls, have been particularly hard hit.”

“Hidden demand for services, increasing complexity of need and unsustainable funding for specialist women and girls’ services will have profound consequences for society for years to come. The government’s response to the pandemic has been largely reactive and gender-neutral, overlooking the true scale of the crisis for women and girls. We must build a social recovery that works for women, girls, their families and communities – otherwise it will be our public services left to pick up the pieces.

The research highlights that young women have been disproportionately impacted, in particular by the economic impact of the pandemic. More young women have been furloughed, been dependant on benefits and faced an increase in unemployment. Mental health problems have also soared amongst this group, driven by an increase in poverty, abuse and isolation. Many have had nowhere to turn and are falling through the gaps.

Charlotte* 23, says:

“My partner and I losing work during the pandemic affected my mental health really badly. Are we actually going to survive? Are we going to pay bills? Am I going to feed my child? And have a roof over my head? And that’s why, I think, a lot of women are scared and they are anxious because they don’t know if they’re going to survive because of the pandemic, because of the way jobs weren’t available and jobs were getting lost.” 

Black and minoritised women and girls were also found to have been particularly impacted by the pandemic– with many pushed into destitution and unable to access the mental health support they so critically need. Half of the specialist ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women’s services who responded to our final survey highlighted increased poverty and related needs among their service-users.

Jasmine, VAWG Advocacy lead at The Angelou Centre, a black-led specialist organisation for Black and minoritised women and girls says:

 “We’ve particularly seen an increase in new referrals – women who have never accessed our support before. In the first lockdown we were seeing between a 30-40% increase, and now we’re seeing 65% increase in new referrals.”

“Some women’s situations have worsened directly because of the pandemic, but for a lot of cases what’s actually happened is that Covid-19 shone a light on the challenges women face in a way that it wouldn’t have before.”

“Our projection is that the number of women accessing our service is going to increase but there won’t be the sustainable funding for specialist services. This crisis is going to have far-reaching, long-term impacts.”

Shakila*, 56, London says:

“I was properly abused during lockdown, even though I knew this person wasn’t good, I had them there because I live alone. He was taking advantage of my house. I’d be asleep and he’d do things while I’m sleeping and I didn’t even realise this was happening. He wouldn’t leave to the point where I said I’m just going to cut myself and then he laughed at me when I cut myself. You know, I really wanted to take my life at the time because I had just about had enough.”

The research makes clear that women and girls’ specialist services have provided a vital lifeline for many women and girls in desperate need during the pandemic. Whilst they have proven to be agile and innovative in their response, the spike in demand for support services as well as the increase in complexity of cases, has meant the women and girls’ sector is more stretched than ever before.

Agenda is writing to Boris Johnson along with a coalition of other leading organisations calling for a dedicated minister to lead the social recovery of women and girls following the pandemic. This is to be supported by a long-term strategy and adequate funding to ensure women and girls needs are addressed. The government can prevent further long-term damage to the most vulnerable women and girls in our society, if it acts quickly and decisively.


Source: Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk

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